Learning without frontiers: School libraries and meta-literacy in action
By Judy O'Connell
ACCESS, Vol. 26, Issue 1, 2012, pp. 4-7.
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Judy O’Connell presented a keynote address at the ASLA XXII
Conference at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, Sydney in October 2011.
Judy O’Connell lectures in Library and Information
Management in the School of Information Studies, Faculty of Education,
at Charles Sturt University, Australia. Her professional experience in
schools includes head of library in schools K–12 and library and
technology services consultant at district level, with a focus on
libraries, library design, gaming, virtual worlds, and curriculum and
professional development in digital environments. Judy writes online at
Each new academic year brings challenges, change and excitement in
ways that might not have been expected or anticipated. While library
shelves have been dusted, collections prepared, digital tools sharpened,
and motivation is running high, the one point of certainty is that the
learning landscape refuses to ‘be still’! When it comes to literacy,
information and lifelong learning, the pulsing energy of change powers the curriculum of learning innovation throughout the year — now, more than ever, at a breakneck pace.
Before the year had hardly got under way, there were already several
indicators that confirmed that education should never be what it was
when you and I were at school. For example, YouTube told us:
Since the dawn of YouTube, we’ve been sharing the hours of video
you upload every minute. In 2007 we started at six hours, then in 2010
we were at 24 hours, then 35, then 48, and now ... 60 hours of video
every minute, an increase of more than 30 percent in the last eight
YouTube blog 23 January: http://youtubeglobal.blogspot.com/2012/01/holy-nyans-60-hours-per-minute-and-4.html
Never mind that the ‘dawn of YouTube’ was February 2005, which was
just 10 short years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met at
Stanford University, and before Google was a twinkle in their eye:
http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/history.html We saw the
launch of iBooks for education and iBooksAuthor, which promised to
challenge the textbook environment in schools by allowing teachers and
students to create interactive content for iPads. Following the
unveiling of iBooks 2, Apple saw an incredible 350,000 textbook
downloads in the first three days after the launch:
We also saw the new twist on Google+ (social networking space
launched in 2011 providing interesting features such as Google Hangouts)
which finally allowed both nicknames and fully fledged pseudonyms to be
We got confirmation once again that game-based learning had more to
offer than novelty interest. When online gamers topped scientists’
efforts to improve a model enzyme using the online game Foldit
(University of Washington, Seattle) a milestone in crowd-sourced
research was achieved:
While all schools are now involved in technology integration, laptop
programs of some kind, and even iPads for 1:1 programs, it is astounding
to think about how the core tools and learning opportunities of the
21st century have indeed become extraordinary.
This is the socially connected era of mobile devices, where
interaction is key and where mobile phone cameras are replacing
point-and-shoot cameras to provide visual connection to the
conversations. Audio and video media are more and more available online
and always accessible, in contrast to a disk or separate device designed
for single-purpose use. While some schools (or systems) lag in adopting
the tools of today, students generally do not; making this is part of
the overall challenge for information professionals.
School libraries and teacher librarians can have a vital role to play
in today’s interactive knowledge environments. The Digital Dead Sea
Scrolls from the Israel Museum: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/
demonstrates how we can connect to the past with the tools of the
future. Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed
using the technique of printing which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s,
is available online from the British Library:
http://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/homepage.html Many more examples
abound, and in Australia we recognise the outstanding resources provided
by The National Library through Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ and
Knowledge building, literacy and communication in action now take
many forms, shape-shifting before our eyes. This digital information
ecology demands a new knowledge flow between content and digital
connections. Now learning is without frontiers because of the available
range of pervasive, immersive, information and communication-rich
environments. Since their establishment, school libraries have been
vital for showcasing the best in good reading and research for immersion
in knowledge. While the bibliographic paradigm created textbook
learning and static school libraries, learning today requires that
teachers and teacher librarians understand reading and information
seeking in a connected world.
Meeting readers where they are
Students need rich print and media experiences to prepare them for
their digitally enhanced world. Students need a range of reading and
information options delivered via all manner of media and digital
devices and, as a result, they need to know how to juxtapose text,
sound, media and social connections in real time. On top of that, they
need to know how to find, filter, then mix and match what they see, hear
This sounds very much like an environment that is best understood and
interpreted by teacher librarians who are passionate about their
library’s role in the learning culture of their school. It sounds like
the perfect space for teacher librarians who are up to date with social
media, and who already understand the portable, personal web, focused on
the individual, on life-stream, on consolidating content, that is
powered by widgets, apps, drag-and-drop, and ‘mash-ups’ of user
engagement. Print materials are no longer at the core of the reference
collection, the non-fiction collection or the information search
process. Students use technology to research online, anytime, anywhere.
School libraries that adapt to the digital needs of their students not
only continue to build a reading culture in the school, but provide the
divergence and convergence in media needed to provide the materials for
motivation, differentiation, collaboration and connections necessary for
21st century learning (Lamb & Johnson 2010; Hay & Foley 2009).
Teaching and learning in school libraries has been shifting from
tool-based and skills-based instruction to constructivist user- and
learner-centric approaches, and evidence-based practice has become the
essential tool for improvement of practice (Bates, McClure & Spinks
In talking about school libraries and the essential paradigm shift
that is taking place, Stanley (2011) highlights three areas of
- Information fluency — using search engines effectively;
evaluating online information; collaborating in virtual environments,
and delivering material resources online.
- Digital citizenship — understanding responsible and ethical use of information, and maintaining safe online practices.
- Digital storytelling — reading, writing and listening to books in
many formats; creating, collaborating and sharing in a range of mediums.
It is in this context that transliteracy has captured the
interest of teacher librarians as a term to explain being literate in
the 21st century, where the relationship between people, technology and
the social meaning of literacy is recognised in past, present and future
modalities (Ipri 2010). The emergence of social media and collaborative
online communities has also led to the reframing of information
literacy as meta-literacy, because information takes many forms
online and is produced and communicated through multiple modalities
(Mackey & Jacobson 2011).
Meta-literacy unifies multiple literacy types and places a particular
emphasis on producing and sharing information in participatory digital
environments. Metaliteracy action happens wherever our students read and
interpret their world. In this way, innovations like e-books and the
more recent iBooksAuthor tool simply represent the latest developments
in what is undoubtedly a growing field for school libraries as teacher
librarians in which to adopt meta-literacy in action. Put bluntly, the
iPad and other mobile and hand-held devices have changed school
In such a context, school libraries must have flexibility and
personalisation at the core of services, bringing literacy opportunities
and information literacy strategies and activities together by
embedding them in multi-modal projects.
Leadership of learning
Leading learning today is no small task and the leadership challenge
placed before teacher librarians is both exciting and challenging,
encompassing as it does all aspects of literacy, meta-literacy,
technology, and professional development in collaborative partnerships
with students and teachers (Fontichiaro 2010; Howard 2010; Killeen 2009;
Milam Creighton 2009).
The International Society for Technology in Education standards (NETS
2008) for students set the need for the appropriate integration of
technology into the literacy and knowledge construction learning needs
of the students by supporting:
- creativity and innovation
- communication and collaboration
- research and information fluency
- critical thinking, problem solving and decision making
- digital citizenship
- technology operations and concepts.
In the open publication School Libraries: What’s now, what’s next, what comes after,
(released under creative commons at
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/96705) we find all these
requirements clearly met, through discussion and exploration of best
practice. The book is produced and circulated in this way, because in
some places the future of school libraries and school librarians hangs
in the balance. It’s an easy publication to dip into and to help nurture
the spirit of future school librarianship.
What you will find affirmed as you read this compilation is that the
school library will continue to change and will look different
physically and will support different media formats. The Horizon Report K–12 Edition
(2011), issued annually since 2009, has identified and described
emerging technologies that are having a significant impact on K–12
education, reiterating the diversity of influences on learning.
The technologies will change and the school library virtual
collections will grow. The curriculum will present unique challenges,
all the more so as we in Australia work with national models. We will
continue to work with literature, stories and storytelling, though more
and more this will be interactive and via hand-held devices. We will
continue to work on information-seeking strategies, and will transform
information literacy into information curation by the addition of
information organisation tools as diverse as Evernote, Diigo, Zotero,
Livebinders, Libguides, Pinterest, QR Codes and more. We will not be
able to ignore social media as natural extensions of the Web 2.0
environments that we have already embraced.
In fact, social media is driving the creation of new
types of online communities, new types of collaboration, and new types
of strategies for gathering and distributing information to build
knowledge. Understanding the social web involves understanding how the
social web impinges on our communication transactions, and affects our
information-gathering activities. By building a future-ready personal
learning network, a teacher librarian can engage in new and emerging
media to assist in promoting creative and authentic knowledge work in
their schools (Cox 2010; Harlan 2009).
The social web (as a place without frontiers) requires teacher
librarians and educators to understand and make use of the following:
- Personal learning environments — relying on people we connect
with through social networks and collaborative tools; for example,
- Personal learning networks — knowing where or who to connect with
to find professional content; for example, Skype in the Classroom.
- Personal web management tools — used for tracking our life and
powering our information organisation; for example, photos to Facebook,
pictures to Flickr, e-mail to blog posts.
- Cloud computing — utilising access between sources and devices; for example, Edmodo, Evernote, Diigo.
- Mixed reality environments — adopting e-devices and augmented reality; for example, e-books, QR codes, Layar browser.
- Content curation — utilising web services to filter and disseminate resources, news and knowledge prompts; for example, ScoopIt.
It’s a golden era for ‘working in the cloud’ — transacting more and
more of our ‘work and play’ in online spaces with online tools. But as
the tools change, the text and the need for clarity in communication
remains — static and active; immersive and multi-modal. Now more than
ever, a teacher librarian specialist can take a leadership role in the
In the ASLA biennial national conference keynote School Libraries and Meta-literacy in Action,
the full range and complexity of areas where leadership action is
involved is explored in detail:
In the video School Library Leadership: Leading Libraries into the Future:
http://youtu.be/4RzmrhDmjeQ the four dimensions of the work of a
teacher librarian as leader fall under the headings: collaborate;
advocate; educate; innovate. If nothing else, these provide a perfect
matrix to examine professional practice in your school, and benchmark
the program of activities for the year.
Leadership through meta-literacy actions
Meta-literacy provides the impetus for our transition to future
learning — a new kind of learning that has adaptability at its core.
Becoming a model for lifelong learning has been the goal of every
teacher librarian because school libraries are in the knowledge
business. This is where we find our strength and our call to leadership.
This leadership strategy (O’Connell, 2012) allows a teacher librarian
to be proactive within the school community, and participate in many
and varied learning conversations such as:
- Curriculum conversation and innovation:
> Project-based Learning (Boss & Krauss 2007).
> Guided Inquiry (Todd 2010).
> Virtual and gaming environments (O’Connell & Groom 2010).
- Digital divide and credibility of online information:
> Contemporary media and open online access.
> Participatory evaluation of information (Flanagin & Metzger 2008).
> Referencing for information organisation with online tools (Taylor 2012).
- Digital citizenship:
> Internet safety.
> Responsible use of information (Ribble & Bailey 2007).
- Global sharing of leading practice and resources to support the 21st century learner:
> Contribution to scholarly research through participatory communication and publications.
> Australian School Library Association Ning
(http://aslaonline.ning.com/) Australian School Library Association on
> SLANZA Te Whare Puna Matauranga a Kura on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/SLANZA/).
> The American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Standards
for the 21st-Century Learner Lesson Plan Database
> Teacher Librarian Ning (http://teacherlibrarian.ning.com/).
- Community entrepreneur:
> Bring together conversations and resources to build knowledge.
> Staff development to enhance student and staff learning in collaborative environments.
> Community outreach, supporting and motivating the evolution of the core learning mission of the school.
Leading learning without frontiers
Teacher librarians have the opportunity to rethink how to support
personalised and collaborative information seeking and knowledge
conversations. Learning without frontiers is our context. It is
empowered by a pedagogical approach to a participatory, digital
environment that aims to be:
- multi-literate and flexible media tools
- curriculum and knowledge engagement through authentic learning experiences
- collaborative and flexible workspaces
- empowered by information fluency skills and strategies
- enhanced by game-based learning and social media
- global in focus through comprehensive projects, activities and media.
Engaging students in opportunities to read and write, explore and
explain, think and deduct are all the more interesting in our
multi-modal, multi-literate 21st century learning environments, no
matter at what age or what stage of primary or secondary schooling.
Teacher librarians are important leaders in the era of learning
without frontiers — particularly when they understand when and how to
move across the ever-expanding social media, meta-literacy environments
to empower each member of the school community.
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Last updated March 2012